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Public Speaking & Being Leading Edge

This past winter the team took time out during our annual winter retreat to discover the nuances of public speaking with Alyson Connolly. The challenge was that each physio is to read a 90 second speech they penned after reading from chapters that I handed out. The book chosen was by Richard Branson and is called the “Virgin Way.”

It started with Justin Koch and his inspiring rap/poem from a chapter. While all of the speeches were fantastic, I share with you an excerpt of Justin’s:

“Our passion is the thing that sets us apart, we care for our patients from the bottom of our hearts; we love what we do and it isn’t a show, we are wicked and fun and people love our physio; we have people who share a common desire… to grow, improve, educate and inspire; passion is not taught, it comes from down deep… passion isn’t phony, negative or cheap; our work is too fun to feel like a job… Dig, jab, poke, laugh and hob knob; the truth of the matter is that passion and drive, are really important for this business to thrive.”

Justin walked and rapped his poem with his paper in hand (not quite like Jay Z but it’s the effort that mattered). He really conveyed the message, in my opinion, that he was trying to get across. He used hand gestures and paused at the right time, he varied his tone and volume, and most important his words mattered. I couldn’t wait to see how Alyson could take us all to the next level, no matter what level we started from.

After each of us spoke in front of the group Alyson leveled us with some simple questions:

How did we feel?  Were we nervous and did we lose our place? Did anyone practice out loud? Did we warm up? Our answers were yes: we were nervous, and no: we did not practice or warm up. If you have ever spoken publicly would you think to practice out loud or warm up?

Alyson followed by taking the team through a warm up. She advised us to “feel planted like trees” and feel the roots from the bottom of the feet to the ground. “Think 3m then 6m and then 9m” she says. Plant the roots, but now the roots move up to the knees, hips and she advised that we relax the pelvis, stack the spine and release the neck. She explodes, “Think like the head is ‘bing’ up.” Yes she said “bing” and she said it like it might sound. She had all of our attention. Her dynamic style is almost impossible to describe in words but her energy was like it could make this page explode. She asked that we now pretend we are in Maui and roll the ankles around the sand. “Get the shoulders and hips into the warm-up.”  Next thing you know we are swaying around like trees in the wind and she has taken a group of physios and turned us into a group of blow up Gumby dolls. I have to say, that while it seemed silly at first, Alyson made her point. Visualization and warm-up is similar to what a professional athlete might do in preparation for a game.

We moved into humming, followed by pounding our chests and walking around saying “I’m fabulous.” From a physio’s perspective the efficacy of these activities is obvious. Abdominal control, stretching, active warm up is essential to performance and performing is what public speaking is all about.

Alyson is making us open a “Big mouth, small mouth” and yelling out loud “weeeeee and weeeeeeeee.” Wiping our check out with our tongue.  Next she asks that we say the months of the year with a pencil in the mouth. It was quite interesting that we all felt clearer, more motion in the mouth, and increased projection when the pencil left the mouth. She pointed out to us a very important concept in public speaking which is that projection is because of articulation.


Next came the tongue twisters

We are all standing through all of these activities and there is little doubt now that each activity is purposeful. Peter piper, picked a peck of pickled peppers. We do this but we are next asked to do it with inflection.  This lead to a breathing exercise where we learned to breathe from the abdomen and the importance of relaxation. Alyson incorporated tai chi and yoga breathing to prepare for that important speech. I must admit that I felt a bit like a puddle and yet at the same time I was ready to roll. From a physiotherapist’s perspective, I can speak to the effectiveness of all of these exercises. She incorporates several scientifically proven approaches to breathing and relaxation that will certainly make a difference in preparing for a speech or for that matter any event that requires a person to be ON.

Enter the amazing Brick commercial drill with punching, pitching, and enunciation. Yes we were punching out an ad. Literally punching in the air and reading an ad. Combine this spoken activity with walking in random directions and pretty soon my sweater had to come off. I also started to achieve a British accent for the first time in my life for some unknown reason. The team really was able to get into the exercise and shared some laughs at the same time.

Through the rest of her workshop we learned how negative thoughts play a large roll in speaking. From perception of the audience, perspective and from the ability to deliver she taught confidence, bigger breath, head up, power and so many more concepts that I believe our team gained valuable lessons in carrying themselves when speaking publicly.

Visualization ala Clara Hughes

Alyson left us with one more key concept regarding visualization. She drew from a Clara Hughes quote. As she elaborated she shared some more pearls of wisdom that I will share here with you: We don’t have to just get this over with. When you are up there, you are the expert. The audience wants you to succeed. Can you visualize that speech that was successful? Begin with the end in mind and don’t forget what do you want that audience to do?

While I shared some key concepts of her workshop, I can tell you that there is no replacement for taking it for yourself. I have taken advanced training in topics as complicated as chronic pain management and from speakers with PHD’s in astrophysics. Alyson’s knowledge is exceptional and more important her ability to impart that knowledge is nothing shy of genius.

At the end of the work-shop each of us were able to choose an excerpt from our own speech and practice what we have learned. More important, Alyson spent time with each of us to make our speaking that much better.

As a last note I thought it only fair to share my own speech that I composed to share with my amazing partners at Leading Edge.

My Speech:

“I don’t need 90 or 60 seconds to speak about the book because to me you guys are each a key chapter in the Leading Edge book.  

Together WE are making our own book called “the leading Edge Way” and each of your speeches is a chance to share your story.  To share your passion and yourself with us.

So this doesn’t work without you. None of it does.   Reading a book and saying words doesn’t make leading edge leading or edge.  You are the examples. You are the spirit. You are the conveyers of the message we are trying to share. Each of you are the inspiration of MY BOOK Seeing each of you smile… laugh… Cry… Get nervous… Lead…  Achieve… grow… learn… Lead…

Learning to speak is but one skill that we are improving on in order to get our message across to patients and make a lasting impact in the world. Speaking is a fundamental skill because despite our amazing hands, wicked kick ass technology, caring ways and fun filled environments, if we can’t share what we are about then how will anyone know that amongst all their options we should be their first choice!”   

Thanks to Alyson I am pretty sure that I nailed it. I have already incorporated her concepts into my public speaking engagements and I am certain that my audiences are thankful that I have.


Check out a little video of our commercial reading and the kind of fun that we had:

Alyson can be reached at alysonconnolly.com

Spread the word and this blog so that others can benefit from her amazing gift!



Alyson Connolly, Clara Hughes, Grant Fedoruk, Justin Koch, Leading Edge Physiotherapy, Public Speaking, Richard Branson, The Virgin Way

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